Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

James Brandon Lewis: Divine Travels

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Quite tonal (and tuneful), Divine Travels is nonetheless free jazz. It’s the major-label debut of tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, quite a departure from the R&B earthiness of 2011’s self-released Moments. Two masters of the avant-garde, bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, join Lewis here for 10 experiments with improvisation in melody, groove and texture. The results are excellent.

Like Ornette Coleman, Lewis is a proponent of rich themes, whether in composition or improvisation. “Desensitized” comprises two alternating sax themes, a few notes repeated ad infinitum (with a minimum of variation) while Parker and Cleaver follow and embellish with inspired synergy. Meanwhile, on the closing “Travels,” Lewis begins with a “do-re-mi” vamp that soon develops into more elaborate phrases and recitatives (until ending with a reprise of “Divine,” the theme that begins the disc). The long centerpiece, “Wading Child in the Motherless Water,” interweaves the melodies of the spirituals “Motherless Child” and “Wade in the Water.” It’s a cerebral undertaking, but not to the sacrifice of those songs’ beauty or depth of feeling; to the contrary, Lewis reinforces it with the grittiness of his tenor sound.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published